Duqm land scam: Officials face heat



Muscat: The Appeals Court of Muscat has ordered that experts be engaged to look into the irregularities allegedly committed by officials who abused their power while distributing plots in the wilayats of Duqm and Bausher.

The court's ruling came after the accused officials were found having granted a commercial and residential land plot exceeding 110,000 square metres to a former housing minister, in the wilayat of Bausher. The accused extended the land plot by 10,000 square metres, and provided all necessary facilities like roads and parking lots. Later, the plot of land was resumed as per Royal order in view of the irregularities.

Another instance
Similarly, in another instance, instead of a 1,400 square metre plot, the land area was extended by five times beyond the original measurement till it reached 7,000 square metres by employees at the ministry. This plot was granted to a senior official at the Estate Registry.

The court recently brought an expert from the Ministry of Housing to testify in the court, who said all the procedures were legal, and consequently, all the accused were acquitted. The Public Prosecution objected to the testimony of the housing expert after it was found that he was a relative of one of the accused.

24 officials on trial
The Public Prosecution appealed again to penalise the accused, saying they had abused their power and misappropriated the state's properties.

Meanwhile, 24 officials of the Criminal Court will stand trial in the Muscat Appeals Court on Thursday, over violations of Royal Decrees in the distribution of plots of land from the General Authority of Industrial Duqm Zone to their families and relatives, and working in sensitive locations after the issuance of Royal Decree No. 85/2006. The officials on trial include a former secretary of the Ministry of Housing, the secretary-general of the dissolved Supreme Committee for Town Planning, and officials from the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Water Resources, a wali and his assistant and director generals.

The Public Prosecution said it would expose many other officials involved in land scams. An official at the Public Prosecution told the Times of Oman that a wider interrogation of officials in many government units is underway over land plots distribution and misuse of power and office.

Fight against corruption
Observers believe that trying the corrupt officials in a court of law will help a great deal in the fight against corruption.  More than 2,000 land plots were distributed to these officials, with the form ranging from grants to compensation after the issuance of the Royal Decree No. 85/2006.

Procedures and rule of law
-- An expert from the Ministry of Housing had testified in the court that all the procedures were legal, and consequently, all the accused were acquitted
-- The Public Prosecution objected to the testimony of the housing expert after it was found that he was a relative of one of the accused


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